Themes and Meanings
God’s Grace explores several questions without resolving any of them. Is it morally justifiable to lead animals away from their natural ways and encourage or force them to live in humanoid fashion? Is humankind automatically in charge of the world? Are classical and biblical myths inevitable, and will they play themselves out in every situation? Are both animals and humans biologically determined? Given the existence of a God, does that God have power to save? Is God’s failure to save humankind caused by God’s inability or indifference?
The novel is deeply pessimistic, both because of the total destruction wrought at the end and because of God’s apparent lack of interest. Early in the novel, God notes that Cohn has survived because of an error on God’s part. At the end of the novel, it is not clear whether God is simply looking on apathetically or perhaps not bothering to look at all.
The themes of the last man on earth and of global destruction as well as the question of God’s existence or concern recur in many novels written after World War II. The atomic bomb and the Holocaust reminded the world that total devastation was not merely possible but also perhaps inevitable and that both stemmed directly from human creativity and desire to overpower others. Like many Jewish writers, Malamud was deeply preoccupied with these themes, particularly the Holocaust.
The flood in God’s Grace resembles the biblical Flood in the Book of Genesis. At the conclusion of the biblical story, God promises Noah and his family (who also assemble animals at God’s command) never again to destroy the world by flood. In the novel, however, God is revealed as unable to keep that promise. There is only a gorilla to recite Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead.